If you're only familiar with standard supermarket carrots—that is, bagged, topless, and uniformly orange—then venturing into the world of heirloom varieties will bring real delight. The visual change-ups constitute the first striking difference: Some are round like baby beets, others long and digit-slender. And the stunning sunset colors—deep purple, flaming orange, saffron yellow—sometimes appear within one carrot. (Centuries ago, purple carrots were the norm, until farmers cultivated wild carrots into the orange varieties that dominate today.) Although the three types that Mary Beth and David Shaddix grew for us didn't taste significantly different from each other, all were profoundly sweet and much more carroty than supermarket vegetables—hence their "soil-candy" nickname, describing a sweetness that gets even sweeter when you roast and caramelize these treats.
Carrots are best grown from seeds sown directly into sunny, well-prepared beds. If the soil in your garden is heavy or rocky, carrots may be stunted, misshapen, or forked. Grow carrots in a raised bed or in a container for best results.
Tip: Interplant carrots with onions to deter pests.
Seeds can take up to three weeks to push through the soil, so many gardeners like to sow a row of carrots next to a row of radishes to mark the spot. The radishes pop out of the ground quickly and will be ready to harvest by the time the carrots begin growing.